Sydney Looks Apocalyptic as Toxic Wildfires Choke the City with Smoke

Three nearby fires have merged to form a "mega fire" the size of the city itself, and the smoke is so bad it's setting off smoke alarms and sending asthmatics to the hospital.
December 10, 2019, 2:48pm
Thick smoke from wildfires shroud the Opera House in Sydney, Australia, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. Hot dry conditions have brought an early start to the fire season.

Smoke from bushfires has taken over Sydney, the air so thick it set off smoke alarms in the Australian city on Tuesday.

Locals complained about choking on the smoke, which was measured in some spots to be 11 times worse than a level considered to be “hazardous,” the Associated Press reported.

The fallout from the hazy air ― the worst on record in the city ― was intense. Schools canceled sports for the day and work sites shut down. Fire alarms rang out from buildings and train stations across the city. Visibility was so limited ferry service was canceled and flights were delayed.


Emergency services struggled to keep up with calls. Paramedics reported an “elevated level of demand” caused by the smoke. They’ve had to rush to help asthmatics without medicine and ambulances have seen an increase in respiratory problems in recent weeks. Firefighters are overworked, in part because they’ve responded to four times the normal number of false alarms because of the lingering smoke.

"We normally do about 120 a day, but from midnight to 1pm we've had 250 and there are still another 12 hours," Fire Brigade Employees' Union state secretary Leighton Drury told the Sydney Morning Herald. "We need more resources to cover this stuff. We are still having to cover all the standard things like industrial accidents and rescues as well as the bushfires."

The daytime sky took on an orange hue under the haze, giving the entire city an apocalyptic vibe. Images coming out of the city were frightening.

Matt Kean, environment minister in the state of New South Wales, where Sydney is the capital, said Tuesday that "no one can deny" that climate change is to blame for the bushfires and historic levels of smoke blanketing the city.

READ: Australia is battling some of the most dangerous wildfires it's ever seen

"This is not normal and doing nothing is not a solution,” he said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Kean added that the weather conditions were "exactly what the scientists have warned us would happen."

With about 100 wildfires raging in the region, the city has dealt with smoke for weeks, but the situation Tuesday was even more severe. A difficult-to-control so-called mega fire on the outskirts of Sydney has grown to the size of the city’s metropolitan area and smoke from that fire settled over the city. The blaze at Gospers Mountain is expected to burn for weeks until rainfall might be able to quell it.

READ: Hurricane-force winds are turning California's fires into a horror show


“This smoky period we’ve been experiencing for the past month or so, it is unprecedented, so these conditions are a risk to people’s health,” said Richard Broome, the New South Wales government’s director of environmental health, according to Reuters.

Broome said lots of city residents would experience irritation in their eyes, nose and throats,

while young children, people with pre-existing respiratory conditions and the elderly were at particular risk. Hospital admissions have ticked up 25 percent in the past week as people rushed in with breathing problems, the BBC reported.

Sydney lord mayor Clover Moore blamed climate change for just how bad the situation in Sydney was on Tuesday. The fires are a reminder that climate change is "super-charging natural disasters," she said, according to the Morning Herald.

Cover: Thick smoke from wildfires shroud the Opera House in Sydney, Australia, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. Hot dry conditions have brought an early start to the fire season. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)